Batty Over Softball

Coach Byrne reaches the magic 300, and the team is No. 1


all together now: Softball coach John Byrne (left, at the back) is barely visible above the members of the Moravian women’s softball team as they join hands at the end of a huddle.

Wow! Second time this year! Mary Beth Spirk coached the 300th win of her career in women’s basketball back in January. And John Byrne ’82, a.k.a. JB, chalked up his 300th winning softball game in March. They join an elite group at Moravian that holds Harvey Gillespie, who coached baseball (1935-74), and Jim Walker, men’s basketball coach, who tripped the 300 line in 2002.

Just days after JB’s 300th, it was announced that Moravian’s softball team was No. 1 in the nation, according to a poll issued by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Division III.

All because John Byrne of North Wales liked Moravian College and decided to stay on after graduation. He was a political science major who had played varsity baseball, so, of course, he went to work in the Admissions Office, where he stayed three years. He gravitated toward athletic recruiting and became coordinator, with “one foot in one office and one in the other.”

Then he moved over to Athletics, continuing as a recruiter, and became an assistant baseball coach, helped with football, and coached volleyball when its coach took a sabbatical. Four years ago, he became an assistant athletic director. In 1993, he was offered the position of head softball coach, and he’s been happy ever since.

(JB happy looks pretty much the same as JB pensive, furious, or funny, but there are little crinkles around his eyes that clue you in.)

He hasn’t changed much in 22 years, except that his hairline is a little farther back. He married at 35; he and his wife, Genevieve, have two girls, Rachel, 3, and Jamie, 2. “It’s a change for me,” he says. “People tell me I’ve calmed down.”

His other family is all female, too: the 18 women of the 2003-04 softball team. Every year, there are more team photos and team honors on the walls of his office, back behind the concession stand at the south end of Johnston Hall. He’s been coaching long enough that one of his former players, Becky Stroup ’00, an all-American pitcher in her undergraduate days, is his assistant coach for pitching.

For a baseball player, isn’t softball kind of—well, slow?

“It’s actually a faster-paced game,” he says. “It’s a shorter game. There’s a lot of opportunities for bunting and stealing.” (The distance between bases is 60 feet, compared with 90 feet in baseball.) “It’s challenging to coach.”

And then, coaching women has its own challenges and rewards. “They’re very receptive and eager, they work hard, and they’re fun to be around,” he says. “I coach them as athletes, and as athletes they have responded.”

Softball was in pretty good shape when he took over. But Mary Beth had been the coach for softball in addition to women’s basketball, and she was finding it tough to work two sports. In 1993, she took the basketball team to post-season play while “the softball team left for Florida [spring training] with an assistant coach,” says JB. “It was the right timing” for softball to have a coach of its own.

In his early years at Moravian, JB also was an associate scout for the Cincinnati Reds, keeping an eye on regional high school talent. “That helped me in my recruiting and my coaching,” he says.

But in NCAA Division III, he has no financial incentives to offer incoming students. “So I look for kids who could go to Division I or II but who want a smaller school,” he says. “They can always change their minds, though. You never know who you have until the first day of school!”

In his decade-plus of coaching softball, he’s worked with the best student-athletes at the College. “We’re turning out good solid kids,” he says proudly.

This year the team has biology, pre-med, business, and criminal justice majors. “The overwhelming majority have a 3.0 [or better] and are on the dean’s list. And on top of that, they’re great kids. They’re wonderful ambassadors for the College,” he says. “You can’t pay for that kind of publicity” that a winning team gets.

Best of all, “I’m able to coach at my alma mater,” he says. And means it.

April 13, 2004

Batty Over Softball:
Coach John Byrne '82 wins his 300th game and Moravian's softball team is named first in the nation.

Welcome Aboard!:
First group of new faculty for 2004-05 announced.

To Health!:
Moravian gets $10,000 grant to co-sponsor Black Women's Health Initiative.

Datebook:
Campus calendar.

Mass Appeal:
Bernstein "Mass" is big event of spring concert season.
Gaudeamus:
Faculty/staff/student achievements.